Story by Robbie McNaughton
Photos by Justin Jefferson, Bill Nelson, Aaron Paul, Robbie McNaughton
I can still remember the phone call that reignited the everesting fire for me. I had listed my SW Tarmac Disc for sale, the bike I had built from the ground up to attempt everesting for the second time. The guy that had called about buying it asked me why I was selling it. I told him that I had bought it to use for an everesting attempt but i had got sick and had to cancel doing it and that I had never put the attempt back on the calendar due to being “too busy”. We went over the bike a bit more on the phone and he said he would have a think about it. After I hung up the phone I said to myself “just listen to yourself, full of excuses” and it was that exact moment that I texted my friend Aaron, asked him if he had a day off the following week and within 24 hours we had a day planned to give everesting another crack.
I originally tried the everesting challenge back in October of 2014
I made it to 5000 metres before having to pull the pin. There were numerous reasons including a 40 degree day that led to me dropping out and I did also blame my tools a little. Not that everesting can’t be done on any bike, but more so the hill I had chosen was not the most forgiving road and nor was it a cruisy roll back to the bottom with speeds mostly in excess of 50kmph with a top of 79.9kph
Things started falling into place. I hadn’t sold my bike, yet, and I had a caretaker lined up for the whole day. As I started putting it out there amongst my riding mates people starting putting their hands up to come out and ride with me at certain times of the day including Anthony Lloyd Jones who was camped at the top of the hill from midnight until we arrived at 1:30am He was straight up and on the bike the moment I rolled up from completing my first lap and sat with me for 7 more! The final piece of the puzzle was telling my wife, I mean, asking her about wether or not I should go for it as I wouldn’t be home for 24 hours and wouldn’t be much help for the next 24! I let Alana know on the Sunday night about what I planned to do that coming Tuesday and instead of hearing “you’re crazy, she simply told me to get after it and then proceeded to ask me if she could do any shopping for all of the supplies that I needed! I love her for this and more.
To everest you need to gain 8848 metres of vertical in under 24 hours. You must treat the climb like you would the ascent of a mountain climb, meaning you can’t go over and down the otherside and back again, more so you simply need to go up and down the same route until you have achieved the required vertical metres. The reason I chose the west face of Bingleburra, located on the East Gresford side of the hill, just outside of Dungog, was because it seemed a true challenge. I simply couldn’t wrap my head around doing 300+ repeats of a smaller hill and in my opinion, the descent back to the bottom is equally demanding, giving this choice of hill some serious level of tough, or stupid, whichever way you choose to look at it. Each lap gives you 275metres of vertical over 4 kilometres but it’s the first half that hands it to you hard with an average gradient of 10% plus, along with a nice 10% pinch in the last couple of metres at the very end of the climb. The average overall grade is 7%
By my calcs I would need to do 32 repeats to get within goal distance and most likely a 33rd lap to safely exceed the desired total of 8848 metres.
I budgeted 30 minute turnarounds for each lap and estimated my total time to be somewhere around the 20 hour mark with approximately 16 hours of ride time. So no matter which way I looked at it I was out there for a very long time. I also aimed to complete most of my major stops along the way as I completed each quarter.
This time around I decided to start as early as possible in the morning to knock out as many night laps as possible while I was fresh. The idea of doing all of the night laps in the back end of the ride was not appealing and I could already taste the small sense of achievement that would come with the sunrise and having smacked out a stack of laps by that time. Originally the plan was to be on the bike at midnight but an extra hour of sleep proved too comforting so I ended up on the bike at 1:15am Aaron Paul and I simply pulled up at the bottom of the climb, unpacked the bike, pulled on the boots and I set off trying not to think about how I was going to eat the whole elephant!
One thing that needs to be remembered is that you don’t make the challenge end that much quicker by smashing out hot laps, the time is saved by staying on the bike and not getting bogged down in your turn around. The biggest thing I did differently this time around was eat, eat, eat, eat, eat as much as I possibly could at the beginning of the ride. I constantly had a Torq energy mix in my drink bottle along with regularly eating everything from bananas to muesli bars to gels and energy bars right through to rice cream straight from the tin. Just about anything to keep the calorie count up from the get go as the idea of eating all too soon becomes a distant second to just wanting to ride and get it done.
I have no doubt that there are some pretty sick individuals out there who do this type of thing for fun, but for me it was about pushing myself and getting it done, there wasn’t a great deal of enjoyment going on, especially at the halfway point and beyond.
Even armed with a plethora of cycling gear, I was still under prepped for the wind chill factor that the cool air was delivering on the descent back to the bottom. It would be 7 degrees at the top and the last kilometer of road delivered me at 70kph into a freezing 3 degrees at the bottom. My last lap before dawn proved the hardest with my entire body fighting to go to sleep while my brain kept telling it to hold on, a saying that would later cause me to flashback to the Wilson Phillips one hit wonder song from the 80’s.
As the sun came up and I took my first break alongside a small campfire at the top of the hill it was sweet relief to lap up a long black coffee with a quarter of the laps behind me! I made a quick change of clothes, including some nice new socks, ditched the booties and began to do some sunny laps. The day was absolutely incredible with no wind and a clear blue sky with an estimated top of 23 degrees, a stark contrast to my last attempt that topped at over 40!
The day laps went by quite easily thanks mainly to the incredible weather. Bingleburra is an incredible place to take in the surrounding country and can be pretty therapeutic once you get the bottom 10% ramps out of the way! My brother in law Ben Goff rolled out to keep me company for a few of the morning laps and by this stage I felt I had a good handle on things as I approached the halfway point.
At the halfway stage Justin Jefferson arrived to cut some laps, and #thebogandomestique Aaron Paul had even dipped down into Dungog and returned with two giant ham salad rolls and coffee’s galore.
This was a relished break period but despite the good spirits of the surrounding company I definitely struggled after my first lap beyond halfway. The idea that you have done so much already and yet have so much more to go is quite confronting. But that is why it is key to have great people around you. Justin busted out the camera and we kept the mood pretty light as we began tapping away into the back half of the attempt.
Soon JJ had ditched the camera for the bike and we soon had three of us climbing and laughing for another 4 laps.
If I could give you one reason to try everesting it would be to help you better understand the power of the mind. I can liken it to mountain biking whereby if you look at the rock, you will hit the rock. The same goes for your thought process. If you think it will be hard, it will be hard. Whereas if you believe you can do it and think about completing it the nagging voice that is the said task will keep telling you its hard, but instead you keep saying “no, this is ok, I got this” and before long you only have 8 laps to go!
And this is where it got hard. With 8 laps to go and having been going for 16 hours already I still had 4 more hours to go. I kept saying outloud “8 laps, really?” to the point where every time I asked how many more there were to go everyone would simply reply “8 laps”
At this point I had some of my closest friends around me, which was really really cool. I was at a pretty dark point in the whole process and having Bill and Jo Nelson along with Dave Rugendyke beside me for the final few laps made things all that more bearable. It was almost like a see saw of emotion from lap to lap. Elation would creep in as you crested the top again only to feel the dread of another as you turned at the crest. I was pretty much saved by Bills cycling jacket, a completely wind proof Castelli number that blocked the cold and made the descent bearable, just! I was now completely out of dry clothes and the night continued to get colder. I was no longer looking at laps, just metres, and when I moved out of the 7000’s into the 8000’s I managed a smile. I was a fair way away from 8 laps to go.
Adam Smithson rocked up with about 4 laps to go and for safety, he drove up behind me for the last few laps, definitely a big help as some of those country folk sure can exceed the speed limit when the pubs about to shut.
With 2 laps to go I was ready to put this thing to bed. Dave Rugendyke had found some music from somewhere and it lifted me to the point where I was ready to lay down a hotlap for something different. My second last lap ended up being my second fastest for the whole day, something that indicated to me that my pace setting was going well. This however, did not help my last lap! Well, what I hoped would be my last!
Despite having managed my diabetes quite well for the entire 20 hour ordeal thus far, my blood sugar crashed out as I climbed up the 32nd lap of Bingleburra. Halfway up the climb I could feel myself starting to swerve and I was talking absolute jibberish. I can vaguely remember Bill simply saying “come on mate” and I have no idea what I said back. When I got to the top I was 40 metres shy of the 8848 that I needed. The way the rules work with everesting is you need to start your ascent from the base in order to gain metres so there was no riding back down a little of the way and coming back up, meaning I had to go all the way back down!
I had to stop to allow my blood sugar to come back up but knew I couldn’t wait too long as I probably would not get back on the bike. I didn’t want to be the guy that quit 40metres from achieving the goal, I would never live that down! Dave, Bill and Jo drove the vans back down to the halfway as I definitely didn’t have another full lap in me and riding to halfway would give me enough metres to call it a night. Bill found a spare jersey and base layer which kept me that little bit warmer and Aaron pedaled in behind me as I rode back down to the bottom to climb for the last turnaround. According to Aaron he was screaming at me to slow down but I couldn’t hear a thing, I was too interested in going to bed!
We got to the bottom in one piece and waited for Smito to swing the car in behind us for the final climb. I can remember slowing down as the garmin clicked 8848m and feeling the weight of the world lift off me. It was seriously hard, especially on my mind to complete this. I gave Aaron a hug and thanked him for the support as I could not have done this on my own. I still cant believe Aaron was able to be there in the capacity he was, with his own mum having suffered a heart attack 4 days prior to the ride. Luckily his mum survived and as Aaron said, he needed the distraction. We listened to Everlong by the Foo Fighters as we rode up to the cars at the halfway. I have to admit I cried a little as I stepped off my bike and hugged Jo. I was a broken man!
In the end it took 16 hours and 51 minutes of ride time and a total of 20 Hours and 54 minutes to complete. Would I do it again? Probably not. But then again, when I first heard of everesting I said it was stupid… ha!
The next challenge will be to become part of the High Rouleurs Society. This is another climbing challenge but one that you can complete with your mates and has the option for a little sleep!
A massive thanks goes out to everyone involved and of course to Specialized for making one of the most amazing, advanced and capable road bikes in the world, my S-Works Tarmac Di2 Disc.
Things you should think about if you are going to attempt everesting:
Get your bike checked by an experienced mechanic – The last thing you need is a mechanical failure deep into the challenge!
Take a spare bike – Nothing beats the confidence of knowing that you can keep on going if something goes wrong!
Chamois cream – On this ride I used a combination of Morgan Blue “solid” Chamois cream and a new product called Biomaxa Ultra Ride Chamois cream. I walked out of this with barely a rub mark!
Gear, pack lots of gear! – I went through 4 changes of clothes. Including 2 jackets and two sets of warmers.
Get a bike fit – the chances of developing a cycling injury during an everesting attempt are pretty high. Make sure your body is in the best possible position so you are not in any pain or discomfort with respect to your setup. This will only be exacerbated the deeper you get into the challenge.
Music – I was under prepared with music but man did it lift my spirits once we finally got something happening.
Nutrition – use the products beforehand that you intend to use on the day of your Everest attempt!
The right people – have people around you that are positive. The last thing you want is your mate who is always complaining! The conversation can only be positive otherwise you are doomed.
Back up power – make sure you have a backup battery for your barometric device aka Garmin, Magellan.
Think comfort – Don’t pack your 4 year old nix with a paper thin chamois, if your bar tape feels hard, re-wrap it with some softer tape, maybe think about running softer pressures in your tyres to give yourself some extra cushioning on the road and I better mention chamois cream again
Know the rules – familiarize yourself with the rules and have a plan on how you will follow them!